Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Now, let the memorial materialise with full goodwill

Now, let the memorial materialise with full goodwill

A war memorial on military land, under its aegis, would have been a better option

The judgment of the (Karnataka) high court in the PIL against the National Military Memorial has come as a disappointment for all concerned citizens of Bangalore. One more park is on its way out, depriving citizens of their right to green places.
The park chosen has very high traffic on three sides and is off the beaten track, with no access to public transport, no large scale parking facility and with serious objections to the location by the governor himself!
The Parks Preservation Act, too, seems to have been ignored in the decision. The judgment opens the way for similar ventures in future, and who knows, our Lalbagh, Cubbon Park, and other open areas may face a demand for more memorials from various groups to honour the great heroes of our long history!
The whole scheme is badly designed and non-transparent. The proposed governance structure for this memorial is weak, inadequate, confined to certain interests, with no clear accountability, and lacks substance. The military memorial is supposedly to be owned and run by a trust, which has not been formed. Public funds are to be spent to the extent of Rs15 crore, without a transparent process. No information is available in the public domain on why it should cost so much, if it has to be a simple landscaped place with small structures. The designs have not come from an open competition, but were chosen by a small set of people, and full details are not yet available in the public domain.
A committee has been formed to oversee this memorial built with public funds, without a wider public participation, lacking the legitimacy needed for a public monument, dominated by a particular group with no clarity on its continuance.
The government seems to have caved in without a wider debate. Certain groups are making it an issue of patriotism, as if to say that all citizens have not been patriotic so far because no memorial has been built for our martyrs since Independence. Emotions are sought to be raised to cover up the inadequacy of information, lack of debate on its merits, lack of transparency and the high cost. "Reason has lost its way in the dreary desert sand of dead habit."
Let me say this clearly. None of us, and I am sure I speak for all citizens of Bangalore, is opposed to a National Military Memorial to honour and respect our martyrs. The objection is to the use of a public park and the non-transparent manner in which it is sought to be done.
There are better places for this memorial in Bangalore, the Parade Grounds next to MG Road with the Metro station right alongside giving unparalleled public access with no impact on traffic. The Baird Barracks opposite the RSI, parallel to MG Road, with a huge extent of land unused for decades. Both are military properties, will be in military control, which will ensure that proper decorum is maintained in future and due respect and dignity accorded to the memorial.
Of course, this is objected to by the group promoting the memorial as it will lose control over the memorial, forgetting that the establishment of a military memorial means an enhanced responsibility. The memorial would need an institutional mechanism to manage a very sensitive subject, extremely emotional, to ensure that this does not degenerate into a museum or a place of fun and frolic, badly maintained due to lack of funds, apathy or the shift of political interests.
A proposed trust, even with the chief minister as the head, advised by a committee, is not the right institution to build and maintain this memorial; only the armed forces are, as they have the capability and the traditions to do the due honours to the martyrs, maintain the dignity of the place, conduct the appropriate ceremonies around the clock and instil in the viewer the respect that is needed!
Now that this has become a matter of controversy, our chief minister should step in and clear the air. Let this be a joint venture between the state government and the armed forces, with the state government and citizens providing the funds and the armed forces maintaining the memorial, in the manner it should be maintained, in military land so that its future is secure, open to the public at pre-determined times, outliving all its protagonists!
Let there be an open competition to choose the right design, so that our young designers give vent to their fertile imagination, and may the best design win.
Let this be done with proper dignity, ceremony, transparency and goodwill.


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